STRONGSVILLE, Ohio — As we continue to celebrate Black History Month here at News 5, we’re highlighting the critical role Northeast Ohio played in the Underground Railroad.
Countless residents, churches, homes, and businesses aided in sending runaway slaves across the border to freedom, including a popular Strongsville restaurant, with an incredible history.
It was built by husband and wife abolitionists who turned their home into a safe house prior to the Civil War.
This home with a hidden history sits in the heart of Strongsville — Don’s Pomeroy House, currently a go-to place for fine dining in Northeast Ohio.
“We’re kind of like their special occasion restaurant, but everyone knows the Pomeroy House," said Laura Moyer, who has worked at the restaurant for the last 22 years. She doubles as a manager and historian for the site.
The house was built in 1847 by prominent businessman Alanson Pomeroy and his wife Kezia.
Three years later, the couple built a general store next door and went on to help build the congregational church on the corner of Pearl Road and Route 82.
“Anyone who was staying for both services, Mrs. Pomeroy would invite to come over for dinner here. They always seemed like they had big open hearts when they would have to host people,” says Moyer.
It’s just one of the reasons the Pomeroy home was often referred to as “The Homestead,” known as a place of hospitality and refuge.
The home has an unseen history as well.
Down in the cellar is where runaway slaves once took refuge. The Strongsville home was a stop along the Underground Railroad.
“Having the general store next door, they would get a lot of deliveries, so it wasn’t unusual to see a wagon covered with bales of hay with produce or whatnot," Moyer said. "So it wasn’t unusual to get deliveries at night."
Often hidden in those nighttime deliveries, under bales of hay, were runaway slaves.
Slaves traveling the Underground Railroad would come from Oberlin and hide out at the Strongsville home until it was safe to move to the next stop — Rocky River.
From there, runaways would be placed on boats, to cross Lake Erie to Canada — to freedom.
It’s unknown how many slaves the Pomeroys helped send to freedom, or even how long their home served as a safe house for those trying to escape slavery.
“He was religious and a businessman that just thought, you know, it was a horrible thing, so he was going to do his part to help out even though it was dangerous," Moyer said. "That’s why they had to be as careful as they could. That’s why there are no written records.”
What is known is that the Pomeroys were big backers of President Abraham Lincoln and there are stories of the safe house that have been passed down from the 1850s.
Alanson Pomeroy, eventually let his son Harlan in on the secret shortly before his death. Suddenly the things he saw as a child started to make sense.
“Harlan, on a few occasions, would notice his mom walking down the cellar steps with a tray of steaming food," Moyer said. "And he would always — ‘Mmmm, I wonder where Mom’s going?’”
These are the stories that local vocalist Val King feels should be told and retold.
“It’s an opportunity for us to think back, look back at history, but to do better so we don’t repeat our mistakes,” King said.
Thanks to the Strongsville Historical Society, the home is now a protected landmark, placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1975, five years before it was turned into a restaurant.
Before that, Moyer said buyers were interested in tearing down the home in order to make room for a gas station.